OPINIONThinking Allowed

The death of our high street shops, like Chan Sam Lock

By Mariam Mokhtar

Who has not heard of Chan Sam Lock (CSL), Malaysia’s biggest wedding and photography studio? It was the place to go, to have one’s photo taken and developed.

As young children, I remember being bundled into the car, together with my siblings, and piling into the shop, for the portrait photo, the family photo, the passport photo, or the celebratory photo. Schoolgirls used to sneak into the shop, to have their photos taken with their boyfriends. In those days, only the very wealthy owned a camera.

On special days, like Hari Raya or birthdays, an elderly Mr Chan, would come to the house armed with his camera and other paraphernalia, for the photo shoot. He had the patience of a saint, as he waited for everyone to be ready, whilst we assembled for the family portrait, with children fidgeting, babies bawling, and elderly aunties falling asleep on the sofa.

If one wanted special photos, or if one wanted an old photo restored, all one had to do was sit with Mr Chan, or any of his helpful staff, and discuss one’s requirements. No task seemed impossible to them.

Sadly, at the end of August, this famous Ipoh shop and landmark, with its very noticeable pastel pink building, located on Jalan Brewster, will roll down its shutters for the last time.

CSL has been in business for 71 years, has won numerous competitions and in 1992, was listed in the Malaysian Book of Records for having Malaysia’s largest wedding studio.

The family-run business has been suffering for at least two years, but its studio director, Chan Mun Loong, 63, said that the decision to cease trading was made in May 2017. He manages the shop with his brother, Mun Tong, 71. CSL had incurred losses of up to RM200,000 a year for two consecutive years.

He said, “In the past, CSL could print up to 5000 pieces of photos, but today, CSL struggles to print 500 prints a day.

“The cost of running the shop per month, is about RM70,000 which includes utility costs and the salaries of 18 employees.

“We used to have 50 employees, but because of reduced profits, we had to decrease our workforce.”

Chan said that CSL had been one of the most prominent wedding studios, and was a pioneer of digital imaging technology for portraits.

CSL photographers were responsible for taking countless photos of graduations, family gatherings and other social events, like the investiture of the Sultans, at the palace in Kuala Kangsar. CSL also provided fast colour print services for its customers.

Although Chan was reluctant to shut down the business, he felt that he had been left with little choice as business has been steadily declining. He claimed that technological advancements, especially in smartphone technology which are equipped with advanced camera functions, were not good for his type of business. Moreover, few people actually develop photos to keep in an album as they could share their photos using a pen drive, or directly via email or social media.

Chan also said that whilst CSL had expanded into making LED signs, the amount of work it generated was insufficient to make this a profitable undertaking.

The economy, explained Chan was also to be blamed. With less money to spend, people kept a curb on their expenses, and taking and developing photos was a luxury that they could ill afford. Chan also said that he would probably lease the building to other business tenants.

As he reminisced about the past, he said that one of his most memorable occasions was being selected to photograph the investiture ceremony of the late Sultan Azlan Shah. He recalled the Hong Kong actor, Simon Yam, who was a brand ambassador for Canon cameras, turning up at CSL, for some promotional work.

How many other types of shops, will soon go the way of CSL? Most high-street photography shops, find it difficult to remain relevant in the era of digital photography. Fewer people use retail photo shops.

Our shopping habits have changed, and in the age of the smartphone, we take more photos, than ever before, although fewer people actually print  photos, to keep in an album.

We used to be a nation of small shopkeepers. The grocer has been replaced by impersonal hypermarkets. Fruiterers, shoe repair shops, sweet shops, and bakeries have died out, as have tailors and dressmakers. In their place, are hairdressers, unisex barbers, beauty salons and retail coffee chains.

When these small family run shops close down, many jobs are also lost. Many high-street shops, struggle with financial problems, until they can no longer continue. A good number have already gone bust. CSL struggled for as long as it could, before it succumbed.

Thank you, Chan Sam Lock, for years of superb service!

i)   CSL would like to remind its customers to collect their photographs, by 28 August, as they  will be discarded after that date.
ii)  Any wedding couples who have booked photo shoots, are advised to go to CSL, as soon as possible.
iii) Couples who are unable to come for their photo shoots, can obtain a refund from CSL.
iv) Various wedding dresses and gowns will be sold to bridal boutiques and anyone who is interested.
v)  Other items including albums and picture frames will be discounted by 40%.


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